FRYE ISLAND — In a state where sandy beaches are not plentiful, Frye Island in Sebago Lake has more than its share. The quirky, old-time qualities in this 1,500-acre island are many – not the least of which is its many small public beaches.
The first step off the Frye Island Ferry – a cash-only operation – brings visitors to a place that’s more remote than you’d expect to find just miles from Route 302 in Raymond. It’s lined with dirt roads, few places of business and a sense of isolation. Here it’s easy to relate to coastal life far Down East on islands such as Great Cranberry or Islesford.
There is a town hall, a store and cafe, all of which occupy the same building. There is a firehouse, a golf course and a community center. And that’s about it. Pretty much everything the locals need is here in this quirky, summer town that seceded from Standish 16 years ago.
There are no year-round homes on Frye Island. The water supply on the island shuts off come winter. Then ice-out in Sebago Lake marks the spring opening for residents, when the ferry starts running again.
“My parents stumbled upon it when my father was stationed in Cape Elizabeth during the Korean War,” said Linda Kirschenbaum, 51, of New York City. “They went for a drive one day and saw the sign for the ferry. There was nothing really out here then. They bought land. About 10 years later they built a house on it. I was 4 or 5. I’ve been coming here ever since.
“It’s not much different. There are so many places to visit in the world but I spend a good portion of every summer here.”
Certainly, summer destinations across Maine are cherished by many visitors. But Frye Island is unique in that it’s not far from malls and major state roads, and just 25 miles from Portland. Yet it feels remote.
It’s accessible only by a seven-minute ride on the Frye Island Ferry, which runs every 15 minutes in the summer. Only residents are allowed to dock or anchor their boats here. Visitors are welcome by ferry.
“When my husband and I got married here everyone said they knew when they got off the ferry they were somewhere special,” said Kate Riley, 36
“Those were friends from New York, from Block Island and Shelter Island. Now that I have a child I’m raising here, I love that the children here have freedom. They all ride their bikes all over. That’s not the case at home. We live right outside Boston. It wouldn’t be safe.”
Cars are minimal, golf carts go slowly and bicycles are common along the 22 miles of dirt roads. One road circles the entire island, sharing water views at each turn. It’s appropriately named Leisure Lane.
“It’s an interesting place because everyone knows each other. Everybody says hello. I was playing softball in the summer tournament and some guy told me to get a glove out of his car. I didn’t even know him,” said Bryan Rotundo, of Somerville, Massachusetts, who married into a Frye Island family.
Then there are the beaches: 13 that are numbered on brightly painted rocks and two other that are unnumbered.
Beach 6 is a favorite of many with its 6-foot-high lighthouse, flower beds and mountain views. Beach 7 is more shady, quiet, with nothing to offer one weekday except water and ducks. Beach 9 offers a kayak stand. And Beach 10 guides you to the water along a wood-chip and boulder-step path.
The next stop is the Recreation Area beach, occupied this day only by a man in a floating hammock.
Kate Riley got married on Beach 8, as did her sister. It’s the one near their summer house, and the one her family claims is the most beautiful. But on Frye Island, everyone thinks their beach is the best.
The truth is every one of these simple beaches provides a scenic retreat. And they’re all open to the public.
“What I love is the water; it’s so clean. And it’s incredibly quiet,” said Carol Riley, 66. “There is a sense of community. If a tree falls on your house during the winter, there are 10 people there to help you opening weekend. If you’re going off island you check with your neighbors on what they’ll need.”